Caring is a special art. If not innate, it can be learned and is an essential relationship ingredient. Some of the ways we care and are cared for are what we explore here.
Most often we have expectations for how it should go. It means our relationship. The problem is not that we have expectations but that they often may be unconscious to us and/or unconscious and untold to our partner. Care relates to how we experienced care and regard when we were children. From the beginning we register how care is expressed to us and between family members. In addition, we also note the needs that went unmet and become stored up unconsciously. These are the ones that are most tender and become so intensely projected onto our partner to satisfy and fulfill. These are the vulnerabilities, the wants and needs that scream out and insist on gaining the right attention now. They were stifled and frustrated before. Now we feel we can finally get them fulfilled. But, it needs explaining and telling our partner about them and even before this, letting them come to our conscious awareness in order to cogently share them.
Therefore, due to the complex clamoring of our own needs, they might conflict with hearing those of our partner. Therefore, even though you love your partner it does not mean you know how to give what she or he wants and needs emotionally. You may not know the package that appeals, be it in words, deeds, surprises, predictable and consistent efforts. It is not just a given. One needs to be carefully taught and to carefully listen.
For example, one partner expects and looks for care to be demonstrated through physical affection and sexual intimacy. Another may need periodic texts or calls during the day to feel connected. Another likes flowers weekly and another to be taken for dinner or a surprise event planned each week. And, all may need reminders, not because they do not care, but because their own needs for care come to the fore as well and often look different from their partner. This all is a negotiation between our own care needs and those of our partner so all can get met.
As we approach the Christmas season that has become a time of gift giving more than spiritual attention, we tend to focus on what to give and what we will get. In a way, this may be an opportunity to evaluate the giving to each other that can occur all year long. Each partner can be more attentive and show care—not through a gift per se but through emotional regard and respect. This means setting up times for careful listening and finding ways of showing care and affection consistently, not only at holiday times.
So, this issue of care might propel you to first sit with yourself and then with your partner and discuss, share and figure out how you can meet each other’s needs, to increase understanding and fill in the unknowns with tenderness and mutual regard.
Susan Schwartz Ph.D.